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Jay-Ann Lopez: Creating Space to Shine

Jay-Ann Lopez believes that all people should feel recognized and respected. She is the Founder of Black Girl Gamers, co-Founder of Curlture, and a major influencer for diversity, equity and inclusion.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Deborah Goldstein with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Dédé Davi. Our executive producers were Joy Smith and Jes Wolfe. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!

Transcript

Shamalama doom doom?
That means Hello, how’re you doing? in the made-up language that little Jay-Ann used to speak with her godmother. Jay-Ann loved making up languages; also, songs, dances, hairstyles and science experiments.

There were so many ideas inside Jay-Ann’s imaginative brain. Was the world ready to hear her?
I’m Dédé Davi. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us.
On this episode, Jay-Ann Lopez, Founder of Black Girl Gamers, co-Founder of Curlture, and a major influencer for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Jay-Ann grew up in East London with her mum and was a single child until she was eleven, but she never felt lonely or bored. In fact, Jay-Ann was always on the move — studying ballet, tap, and hip hop dance; practicing the violin and piano; and performing in the theater. Jay-Ann also loved gaming and collecting anime cards. And in school she was passionate about all her subjects, especially science.

She had trouble with bullies though. Even after switching schools, Jay-Ann got teased for the things she was into or liked.

Her mum often told her, This may be how the world reacts to your Blackness, but you are more than whatever anyone else sees. Jay-Ann loved her mum so much. She felt those wise words filling her with confidence and fortitude each day as she walked back into school.

Still, she wished there was a place where everyone could feel loved and accepted.

Well, if you don’t make that happen, who will? she wondered. This question kept haunting and inspiring her day after day.
The year was 2014 and Jay-Ann was 23 years old. She and her best friend, Trina, had just started their natural hair journeys. No more relaxers or straighteners. No more trying to fit into other people’s standards of beauty or fashion. Jay-Ann and Trina were excited to celebrate their Black heritage and enjoy their natural, curly hair.

But where to begin? Were they supposed to chop it short or do a deep conditioning? Wear extensions until it grew out or apply oils?Jay-Ann scoured the internet for advice and found that there were very few Black British influencers.
Well, clearly we have to change this, Jay-Ann thought. So she and Trina created Curlture — a platform to honor Black beauty and culture. They started writing and posting about identity, self-love, natural hair and everything in between. They gained follower after follower. Soon, they had an online community of thousands of people sharing resources and opinions; appreciating and supporting one another.

This is magical, Jay-Ann thought. And then of course she wondered, Where else can I make this happen?
Jay-Ann had always loved gaming. She especially loved games that took her on an adventure, whether she was solving mysteries, role-playing, or getting lost in alternate universes. But just as Jay-Ann couldn’t find many Black British influencers in the world of natural hair, she also had a hard time finding women of color in gaming. Instead, she encountered a lot of the big gaming influencers who thought it was funny to use racist or sexist language. Jay-Ann was not going to stand for that.

She started a Facebook group called Black Girl Gamers and for this community, she also created a live-streaming video game channel — a safe space where people could talk about the power of Black Women in gaming. ”

Once again, thousands of people flocked to her online community. People from all over the globe chimed in! Jay-Ann got to connect and brainstorm with these women, to create new content and plan events where they could get together online or in person. Jay-Ann also started speaking to big companies about how gaming and technology need to be more inclusive and the potential for new ideas when we all respect each other and collaborate. She was changing the face of gaming on screen and in real life!
Today, Black Girl Gamers is a community-powered business with over 9,000 members across the globe.
They offer events, workshops, consulting, mentorship opportunities, and a talent agency to represent streamers. As Jay-Ann has moved countries, Curlture, and the book they co-published, has been left to exist as a legacy and ode to Black Women’s natural hair.

But more important than any numbers or accolades, Jay-Ann sees these two communities as powerful agents of change. She’s thrilled about all their possibilities. And hers.

In her home, Jay-Ann has a vision board where she plots out her hopes and dreams for the future. On the left, there’s a box that says “No.” to remind her to honor boundaries when she needs to. On the right, a lime green box that reads “Legacy.” And floating in between, there’s a quote that Jay-Ann lives by: “They’ll learn.”

Jay-Ann does this because she believes that everyone deserves to be recognized and appreciated.
She does this because each of us is more than whatever anyone else sees.
And she does this so that together, we can grow and play and become our truest rebel selves.